Change, Change, Change

    Happy New Year! It’s January, which makes me think about change. The kind of change where people intentionally take stock of how they are doing in life and decide to upgrade. New calendar years, new fiscal years, and birthdays seem to bring about this taking of stock for a lot of people. Its almost to the point where I wonder if there is something innate about it. Just Google “change quotes” to see my point...

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.
— Martin Luther King Jr.
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
— John F. Kennedy

    I love these quotes, but they seem to have different takes on change. One alludes to the inevitability of change. The other points out how difficult change can be, suggesting it is not inevitable. Maybe it just  seems like change is inevitable when I want things to remain the same, and then difficult when I want things to change.

    The phrase “I want things to change” encapsulates the crux of the difficulty of change. I have worked with many people who have desperately wanted change, but struggled to do so. Even the New Years Resolution, and its almost inevitable failure, has become a widespread running joke.

    We all have reasons for doing what we do, and the ways that we do them. So, when it comes time to make change we find ourselves battling internal habits and external environmental pressures. We may be unaware of alternatives to our ways. Then, even when we are aware of alternatives, we may lack resources necessary to make that change. Sometimes even when changes are being made, the people in our lives have a difficult time adjusting to our new behavior and try to get us to change back.

    Psychologists have proposed different theories addressing change. My personal favorite is by Prochaska, who looked at many studies of the therapeutic process and found similarities in how change was, or was not made. He titled it the Transtheoretical Model of change (TTM). He and his colleagues identified 5 stages of change:

  1. Precontemplation: the person lacks awareness that something needs to change.

  2. Contemplation: the person is aware of the need for change and is thinking about the benefits and drawbacks of changing.

  3. Preparation: a decision to change has been made, now the person works on pulling together the resources needed to make it happen.

  4. Action: effort is being made to do the new behavior(s) needed for change.

  5. Maintenance: new behaviors have been carried out with some success. Now the person works on keeping them up until they become the new habit.

    As with any theory, it has its proponents and its critics; situations it has worked for and situations in which it didn’t work. (See my prior post about no one theory that works for everything.) Aware of its limitations, I still like TTM because it provides a systematic way to think about change, readiness for change, and whether a person has the resources they need to change. My next five posts will address the different stages in more depth, including how they might look in action in workplace scenarios.


Prochaska, J.M., Prochaska, J.O., Levesque, D.A. (2001). A transtheoretical approach to changing organizations. Administration and Policy in Mental Health Services Research, 28(4): 247–261.